PreSales exists because organizations recognize its ability to improve close rates and renewals, ultimately resulting in more revenue. But when was the last time your executive team or shareholders were satisfied with the status quo? The expectation to close more deals in less time is always a driving force in the sales process.
Traditionally in PreSales, quality trumps quantity. You want the engineers that make up your PreSales team focused on being experts about your products and how they can solve customer problems, no matter how specialized. That kind of mastery takes time, pure and simple. Especially when combined with the level of commitment required to connect with prospects through demos, proofs of concept, or security reviews.
But it is possible for PreSales to increase quantity without sacrificing quality. I’ve seen teams do it. In my role at RFPIO and through stories from our customers. In my experience, I’ve found the velocity and win rates we are striving for are impacted positively by focusing on the following four areas: collaboration, knowledge management, content access, and customer experience.
Ken Krogue from InsideSales.com found that salespeople spend only 35% of their time selling.
That’s like trying to win a hockey game, if you only compete for the first period.
Or following the plot of a three-act play, if you only see one act.
Or bringing home a big catch, when your bait’s only in the water a third of the time.
Hyperbolic metaphors aside, 35% is definitely a bit low. But nobody in a PreSales or sales role spends 100% of their time selling. I think 50% is a realistic goal, with the other 50% of time spent strategizing and learning.
From a leadership perspective, it’s my responsibility to make sure PreSales and sales people have the tools, training, and trust to be able to drive revenue not only by working more deals, but by increasing average revenue per deal through cross-sell, upsell, and eventual renewal opportunities.
Collaborate for better visibility
Collaboration was a thorn long before pandemic-induced team dispersion. There are a lot of powerful applications in the sales tech stack, but few include organization-wide capabilities for communication, project management, and knowledge management.
It’s not uncommon to have scenarios where PreSales and sales are working in Salesforce, customer support is working in Zendesk, and marketing is working in Wordpress. In this case, the only collaboration mechanism that connects them all has to live outside the respective applications, like email or Slack or Trello. If you want PreSales to own a larger share of the customer experience, then, collaboratively, this can be a problem.
My first tip for improving collaboration is to identify a platform where you can incite, capture, and monitor all communication as it relates to a customer. This is the type of functionality that you’ll find in a CRM, unified communication, team workspace, or response management system.
The trick here is access, because it can be costly to purchase seats for every user involved in a transaction—PreSales, sales, subject matter experts (SMEs), proposal, and support. But all of these players need clear visibility of the sales lifecycle to be able to avoid collaborative stumbles that interrupt the customer experience.
Beyond technology enablement, I also recommend the following operational steps:
- Add transparency to roles and responsibilities: There’s a spectrum here. One side is a 1-page directory of who owns certains tasks, sign-offs, or subject matter expertise. The other side is dedicated project management where tasks are assigned from the moment a deal begins, to follow-up support after implementation.
- Schedule kickoff calls for handoffs. This might even be an optimal time to introduce client contacts to team members, whether you’re handing off to sales, SMEs, or support. Many PreSales professionals I know dread handoffs for fear that commitments they make will not be followed up on later in the buying process. Setting up a kickoff milestone prevents clients from floating blindly between—and possibly falling through the cracks of—your sales processes.
- Stay involved. SEE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE SECTION BELOW.
- Sell collaboratively. 60% of sales professionals claim collaborative selling increases productivity by 25%; 52% of them say it has also increased pipeline by 25% (source). There’s no better 1-2 punch in collaborative selling than sales and PreSales, especially when they have the tools in place to intuitively play off each other, in real time.
Knowledge management, or lack thereof, can be a major time killer. According to the Mckinsey Global Institute, “Workers spend nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.” Sure you want PreSales customizing the best proposal or demo possible, but not at the cost of falling behind on other proposals or demos in the queue.
Time spent chasing contextual information that has to come from sales, capabilities content that has to come from product development, brand-approved creative content that has to come from marketing, and technical data that has to come from engineering adds up quickly.
Implement a company content library or knowledge base that absorbs and centralizes subject matter expertise. That way PreSales has immediate access to the most up-to-date information about product releases, security compliance, and service offerings.
If you do it right, a content library can become your company's single source of truth. No more version control issues. No more searching through your inbox for attachments. And certainly no more providing customers with incorrect or outdated information.
And the efficiencies you realize through an intelligent content library can be paradigm shifting. Of survey respondents using RFP software with a dynamic content library, 84% agree they have more time to spend personalizing proposals to specific use cases.
Enter through the “field” library
Onboarding and ongoing training can have a multi-dimensional impact on PreSales’ ability to drive revenue. Zach Bolt does a fantastic job explaining it in his article written for PreSales Collective, “Cracking the PreSales Enablement Code.”
As I see it, the biggest challenges lie in two areas. One: onboarding new sales engineers with varied levels of experience. Two: providing ongoing training support to help avoid the gulf that sometimes forms between performance levels of different engineers.
Both can be supported by user-friendly access to the content library I just mentioned.
After you build the content library, you’ll have all of the company and product information you use in your sales process (e.g. proposals, RFP responses, demos, etc.) available for onboarding and training. Speaking from experience, there are few things more frustrating than not being able to find content that you know exists. It’s especially anxious when you’re new to a role or trying to power through that rookie sensation of impostor syndrome.
Make the content library accessible through search from the applications where PreSales works so they can quickly locate content in context. When you do this, you’re effectively creating a “field” content library where PreSales users can access content in real time.
I can think of many occasions when I believe access to our field library contributed to more revenue. In one situation, we were conducting a product demo follow-up call with an asset management client—a common PreSales responsibility. During the call, the client came at us with some thoughtful, detailed questions that we could not have been ready for ahead of time. But with access to our field content library, we were able to find answers to the questions in real time. It wasn’t the only factor, but our ability to work collaboratively on the fly definitely contributed to the client ultimately signing an extended three-year contract.
You’ll realize value from access to a field content library beyond direct client-facing interactions, too. You know that feeling you get when you wish you could clone your best performers? Knowledge sharing internally is how you get the most out of your best people. Repeat the success of your best PreSales and sales people by giving everyone access to their knowledge. Multiple times a day, I copy links from our field library and paste them in relevant Slack channels to share content updates or answers to questions with my teams.
Maintain PreSales’ trust equity throughout the customer experience
Gone are the days of “sell it and forget it,” says PreSales Collective co-founder James Kaikis. Often, PreSales has the first and best opportunity to strengthen trust in a customer relationship, and preserving that equity is essential to a seamless customer experience. In his article, Kaikis sums it up perfectly with, “Building trust and breaking down objects is what PreSales does best.”
PreSales is growing fast, as evidenced by the popularity of PreSales Collective. Many organizations view PreSales as a technical role. But I think it’s also important to view it as central to sales strategy, too. PreSales can take on a dual role, straddling the relationship between prospect and provider. The prospect will feel valued having someone on their side, and the PreSales person will be able to uncover feedback a prospect might not normally offer a salesperson.
One situation where this comes up at RFPIO is when we’re setting up enterprise trials and proofs of concept. The account executive owns the relationship and builds the overall strategic approach early on. But this crucial touchpoint is the perfect opportunity for a PreSales person to speak up about strategy.
We had one situation recently where the person in the PreSales role had expertise specific to the industry (finance, in this case) and the application and advised an enterprise trial and proof of concept that was different from what we would normally do. It turned out to be a winning approach and wouldn’t have been possible had the PreSales person not been empowered with the trust to think strategically.
There tends to be an interruption in the feedback loop for PreSales. When they’re not privy to what’s happening in the overall customer experience, then they’re cut off from customer feedback on what went well and what could be improved. This ties back into everything from training to career advancement to learning how to better identify revenue opportunities (i.e., upsell or renewal cues).
Improved collaboration and knowledge management will help provide visibility across the customer experience. That visibility will help you find ways to involve PreSales in activities such as:
- Easing the transition or handoff from one team to another
- Determining whether an opportunity is a go or no/go
- Engaging with customers for opportunities such as upgrade, integrations, and renewals
Sometimes, in the customer’s mind, sales wants to sell them something and PreSales wants to solve a problem. It’s a lot easier to break through when instead of starting a conversation with, “I thought you might be interested in…” you can start it with, “Remember when you told me you wanted X if we ever decided to add the functionality? Well, X is coming in the next version, and we can have you up and running…”
Load up for the revenue drive
According to McKinsey & Company, if you strengthen PreSales’ abilities, then you can “consistently achieve win rates of 40–50% in new business and 80–90% in renewal business.” With better collaboration technology and initiatives, building a trustworthy content library, opening up access to that library from anywhere, and expanding their strategic footprint across the customer experience, you’re strengthening PreSales ability to drive more revenue.
As Regional Vice President of Sales, Konnor is responsible for the North American territory. He has successfully led sales initiatives at RFPIO since 2016 and has more than 10 years of experience in software sales leadership, territory management, and sales training. He is an award-winning sales executive, receiving recognition from his previous companies for outstanding sales performance. Prior to RFPIO, Konnor led regional sales initiatives at Comcast and Paycom. Connect with Konnor on LinkedIn.